Thursday, June 17, 2010
The 2010 Webby Person of the Year is your friend and mine Roger Ebert. Winners are given five words with which to give an acceptance speech, but Ebert only needed three: “Veni, vidi, vici.” My response is also only three words: What a dick.
I mean that only in the Freudian sense, of course. He’s got a penis, and he used it to conquer the Internet. As a peasant thereof, I resent the news.
Veni, vidi, vici! Am I missing the connotation that isn’t self-serious? I suppose it’s meant to be a bit of a chuckle that Ebert’s comparing the violence of Roman wars with little ole him writing some stuff on the Internet. But I don’t buy it. The guy knows how to write a five-word funny; this ain’t that.
There were a number of plaudits in the Webby description, some of them indisputable (unprecedented engagement) and others open for debate. Specifically, I take issue with praising the thoughtfulness and critique of someone who summarily rules on such low culture media as television, video games, blogging, and Twitter without feeling the need to do the appropriate legwork first. Maybe next year they'll honor Sarah Palin. Naturally I commend him for rescinding his prejudices against blogging and Twitter, but that doesn’t contradict what I’ll call his habit of solipsism, i.e. if I’m not doing it, it must not be worthwhile.
His discussions of video games and Film: Socialisme lay bare the truth of his wobbly critical apparatus, defining terms willy nilly, building on utterly subjective (and therefore unpersuasive) foundational arguments (which some, I concede, would argue comes with the price of admission), and regularly departing the realm of criticism entirely, and not just in his memoir pieces. Ebert’s website editor (I don’t think he edits the actual pieces Ebert writes, but I could be wrong) Jim Emerson says rightly that more than a paragraph of plot summary gets in the way of criticism. One wonders how Ebert gets away with it so often.
No, one doesn’t. Ebert gets away with it for being Ebert, the only film critic in American history that’s a household name. You’d think he enjoyed enough popularity, but the man is a constant self-promoter. On Twitter he links to everything he writes multiple times, just in case you missed it. Already you can find two links to his new Great Movies entry and two more to his review of Winter’s Bone. There’s time for at least twice that by the weekend!
But it’s the Ebert Club that really put me off. A while back Ebert started asking for fans to pay some small amount in exchange for benefits like a regular newsletter and stuff. Which is all well and good, and far be it for me to tell people how to spend their money, but my pinko heart shrinks from the sight of a super rich man asking for still more money and often (if not entirely) from people well below his tax bracket. Okay, so it’s a small price and goods are exchanged, but the principle rubs me the wrong way.
Then there’s his gross fan worship. He just loves to go on about how his comments are the best on the Internet and his commenters are the smartest anywhere and his fans will beat up your fans. It helps, surely, that his first several dozen comments on any given post take place in an enormous, unpolished echo chamber, except on those occasions where he rouses the rabbles, as in his post about video games not being art, in which case he’ll suddenly stop responding to the thoughtful dissenters and instead embolden (literally) what few agreements he can find.
A detailed storyteller, Roger Ebert is often smart and funny, and if he’s not saying anything that others aren’t—I especially find his comments on politics relatively facile—he’s usually saying it entertainingly. I’m happy he’s around, and I anticipate his blog posts, too. But there are sharper minds out there, and I refuse to genuflect before our new Internet overlord.